California Lawmakers Mandate Students Study about ObamaVicki Alger • Monday August 18, 2014 3:40 PM PDT •
You know your presidential popularity must be tanking when a state legislature has to pass a mandate requiring students to study about you in school.
Recently the California State Legislature passed a new law (AB 1912) requiring the Instructional Quality Commission, which helps oversee the state’s Common Core standards, to consider revising the social studies framework to include a section on the significance of President Obama’s election in the context of voter discrimination. Co-sponsor Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) explained that it’s important for students to learn about “overcoming our nation’s past to elect our first black president.”
In spite of its back-to-school timing, this new law likely has a lot more to do with future elections than ones in the distant past. Throughout the summer the president’s job approval ratings hit all-time lows hovering around 40 percent nationwide (here, here, and here). In California, Obama’s approval rating slipped 10 points overall to 52 percent since the beginning of the year. The declines were even deeper among his base who’ve given him high approval ratings in the past: down 15 points among women, 14 points among registered Democrats and voters under 40, and 12 points among nonpartisan voters. Meanwhile the approval rating for the State Legislature is inching its way back up to roughly 42 percent according to some polls, 35 percent according to others.
If elected officials in California really wanted to overcome the past, they’d give students of all backgrounds better education options today. Consider grade four reading proficiency. Researchers pay particular attention to student proficiency in this subject because if students cannot read well by this point they will continue falling farther and farther behind in this and other core subjects.
According to the latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, just 53 percent of California White, non-poor fourth graders (those not eligible for federal free or reduced-price lunches) scored proficient or better in reading. That figure drops to 31 percent among non-poor Hispanic fourth graders, and plummets to a shocking 14 percent among non-poor African-American fourth graders —just one percentage point higher than their peers who are from impoverished families.
Thus large majorities of California students are not proficient in elementary reading in spite of spending well over $10,000 per student.
If California lawmakers were serious about helping students overcome the past, then today they’d enact statewide parental choice programs that empower parents to choose the public, private, virtual, or home school of their choice. More options—not more mandates—are what California students and families really need.